Game: Cherokee (8-2, 3-2) at North Gwinnett (8-3, 3-1)
Last meeting: First meeting
All-time series: First meeting
Prediction: Cherokee 27, North Gwinnett 24
One year after recording the only road win in the first round of the Class AAAAAAA playoffs, Cherokee will once again look to play the role of ‘Road Warriors.’
A loss last Friday in the final week of the regular season, paired with Etowah’s upset of Alpharetta, bumped Cherokee out of the top two seeds in Region 5. As a result, Cherokee (8-2, 3-2) will travel to Suwannee this Friday to take on North Gwinnett (8-3, 3-1), the No. 2 seed out of Region 8.
There is familiarity between Cherokee coach Josh Shaw and North Gwinnett’s coaching staff. Shaw served as defensive coordinator for North Gwinnett coach Bill Stewart during Stewart’s tenure as coach at Etowah (2006-11). North Gwinnett’s offensive coordinator Steven Jackson also served in the same position under Shaw at Cherokee from 2012-16.
“Bill is probably the biggest influence on my coaching career,” Shaw said. “He’s the best defensive coach I’ve ever been around. They’re both really good coaches and I just respect both of them tremendously. We’re going to have to play really well.”
Cherokee fell 41-29 to Milton last week. The Warriors struggled to slow down the running game, surrendering more than 300 yards rushing, but offensively theyt were explosive. A.J. Swann finished 18 yards shy of setting a new single-game passing record for Cherokee, finishing 27-for-36 passing for 437 yards with three passing touchdowns. Swann is now four touchdowns shy of setting a new program career passing touchdown record.
“Our offense is playing with a tremendous amount of confidence right now,” Shaw said. “Hopefully we can continue that this week against without a doubt the best defense we’ll see all season.”
Cherokee totaled 500 yards of offense and 29 points against Milton’s No.1-ranked scoring defense (9.9 points against per game) and this week will face the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (11.4 points against per game). North Gwinnett has several Division I commits on its roster including linebacker Barrett Carter (Clemson), defensive back Jordan Hancock (Ohio State) and defensive back Jayson Gilliom (Kansas). Linebacker Kemar Brown leads in tackles while defensive tackle Kayden McDonald holds offers from Georgia, Michigan State and Tennessee.
Offensively, North Gwinnett has struggled to find consistency at the quarterback position. Seth Anderson has been the Bulldogs’ most dynamic wide receiver and offensive playmaker while an array of running backs has served in the backfield. Carter, one of the highest-rated defensive players in the country, will also get carries at running back and scored three touchdowns last week against Peachtree Ridge.
Cherokee went on the road and defeated Westlake last fall in the opening round of the playoffs. Shaw said he doesn’t want last week’s loss to Milton to turn into a letdown and is keeping his players focused on gratitude this week.
“At this point, there are only 32 teams who are getting up to practice this week,” Shaw said “We’re going to enjoy it and, really, we have nothing to lose. At the end of the day, it’s 7A football in the state of Georgia. If you want to advance you’re going to have to play good teams.”